WILLIAMSTOWN — The innovative, locally sourced meals prepared by the dining services team for the students of Williams College now grace the tables of a local homeless shelter and local food projects to help feed locals facing food insecurity.
Leftover meals that went unserved in the dining halls are being gathered up by students, packaged into meals, frozen and delivered by volunteers from several different student organizations under an umbrella initiative known as "The Campus Kitchens Project," a leading national nonprofit empowering students to fight hunger and food waste.
Student volunteers pick up food three nights a week from campus dining halls, chill the food for 24 hours, and then package the meals for deliveries to multiple affordable housing communities like Brayton Hill and Mohawk Forest, local food projects and a homeless shelter in North Adams.
"It's just wonderful," said Kathy Keeser, director of the Louison House for the homeless in North Adams. "On weekends they're really excellent because it's real food, and it's ready to go. And we could do a lot more with it. I think we're really on to something."
Williams College students launched the program last month, becoming the 60th college to join the Campus Kitchens effort. The Campus Kitchen at Williams is supported by a grant from CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America.
Williams senior Megan Maher, the Campus Kitchens coordinator, said the project directly targets the hungry of the Northern Berkshires, where 18 percent of the populace faces food insecurity, and 11 percent of the populace lives with hunger.
In the last academic year, student volunteers with The Campus Kitchens Project nationwide recovered more than 1.3 million pounds of wasted food and served nearly 350,000 meals to those in need. Student volunteers with the national organization also work to promote sustainable solutions to address hunger and food insecurity in their communities.
The Campus Kitchen student leadership team at Williams currently has about 10 students — representatives of student groups WRAPS, Moo-Mami, Williams Homeless Outreach, Lehman Community Engagement, and Williams Sustainable Growers. And there are more students involved in each of these. There are about 40 students in the WRAPS program, which is one of the biggest stakeholders of the Campus Kitchen at Williams College.
WRAPS stands for Williams Recovery of All Perishable Surplus, and Moo-Mami is a student cooking group.
The student volunteers do not receive any class credit or pay for their efforts.
Maher said there are other rewards.
"I see the Campus Kitchen at Williams being a great unifier for the campus and surrounding communities, and bringing people together to build relationships and serve each other is really important to me," she said. "I'm amazed at all of the community initiatives happening, especially in the realm of hunger relief, and I see the need for increased coordination between all of the efforts, a need that I hope the Campus Kitchen can be part of filling. And at the heart of it all, this is a way for me to express my love for God and people."
Depending on how closely the dining staff estimated the amount of food they would need for meals, the volunteers could wind up with less than 10 meals, or up to 90 meals. Packaging sessions, which are held three times a week, average roughly 50 meals per session.
Now that the Campus Kitchen at Williams has officially been launched, Maher noted, student coordinators are discussing future leadership structure and ways to bring underclassmen on board.
"This is also one of the huge benefits of being connected to both the Center for Learning in Action at Williams and the national Campus Kitchens Project out of Washington, D.C., because we'll always have structural support for sustainability over time," she added.
Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.